Sunday, December 30, 2012

100 Years Ago - part 6

Belleville Day 1912

There are so many stories to tell of the glories of Belleville a Century ago. Still, we must avoid focusing overly-long on just one time period in a town whose history dates back to the 17th Century . With that thought in mind, we will close our series, "100 years ago", with this present offering.  Never-the-less,  there will continue to be new material added, as it becomes available, on our sister site, , where you will also find additional photos that would not fit here in this Blog as well as popular music from 100 years ago played on period victrolas and in the near future, other memorabilia.  It is all the more appropriate to close out the series now since it has focused on the year 1912 and we here in this time are seeing the closing hours of our year 2012.

 Today, we will turn a nostalgic eye to that grandest of all town celebrations; "Belleville Day".  Civic pride was so strong then that one could almost see it glow in the dark.  The townsfolk were always willing and eager to celebrate themselves , who they were and what they had done. There existed a group of exuberant citizens who called themselves "The Belleville Celebration Association.".  This group assumed the responsibility of organizing one of the town's most important events, the highlight of each year,  the celebration of "Belleville Day".  In addition, they published a booklet  explaining to the world in general and to citizens in particular, why Belleville had a right to be bursting with pride. The names of the 21 members of the Association's Executive Committee may ring familiar tones in the memory banks of some of our older citizens.  A photo of them still exists (shown below). From left to right, top to bottom  there was;  John Abbott, Ira Shattuck, John Denike, George Bechtoldt, Edward Livingston, John Burke, Thomas Fleming, Henry Haigh, Joseph Williams, Andrew Bagnall, Ida Kane, Mrs. William Otter, Dr. Joseph C. Winans, Mayor Lyman Dennison, Anna Scaine, Anna Glennon, Walter Gilby, Robert Crisp, Henry E. Wilson, Alfred Cooper and Joseph McCarthy.

The booklet they produced, 40 pages long,  is a marvelous snapshot in time of our town as it appeared to them 100 years ago, including photos of leading citizens, industries, businesses, municipal buildings, civic buildings, churches and entertainment venues. Then there were articles describing the town's past, present (1912) and anticipated future. here are some excerpts :

It went on to tell of our postal service which delivered mail twice a day throughout the town and three times a day in business districts. 

We are told of four highly regarded public elementary schools plus a high school department (located in School No. 3 in 1912) and a large parochial school. 

Belleville Day, itself, was a sensational day of activities and recreation.  It began with a parade starting at 2:00 P.M. sharp. 

The parade, after trooping its way through major streets in town, would make its way to Hillside Pleasure Park on Washington Avenue near Greylock Parkway. Then the fun would begin. From 3:30 P.M. 'til 5:30 P.M., there was a field day of athletic events such as;

  • 75-Yard Dash for girls under 18 years of age.
  • 60-Yard Egg Race for girls under 14 years of age
  • 220-Yard Dash closed to Grammar School Juniors of Public and Parochial schools under 5 ft. 1 in.
  • Half-Mile Run open to working boys
  • Three-Legged Race; Distance 100-Yards
  • One-Sixth Mile Closed to High School Boys
  • 100-Yard Sack Race
  • One-Mile Run, open
  • Two-third Mile Relay Race for Firemen and Police
  • Two-third Mile Relay Race for Belleville Clubs
 Prizes included gold watches, silver and bronze medals for individual events and silver cups for relay races. 

After the games, arrangements had been made for a "First Class Supper" at the Hillside Park Restaurant beginning at 5:30 P.M.  until 7:00 P.M.  After supper, one hour and fifteen minutes was reserved for speeches.  There must have been a lot to say about Belleville!  Avoiding the speeches was unlikely because townsfolk would have wanted to get the best possible seats for what followed. A vaudeville show, the most popular form of entertainment in those pre-television days would hold the crowd's rapt attention as the evening part of the show began to unfold. Even then, the day was not over. There would follow an enormously popular event, a world class Wild West Show.  The arena would have been filled with the pungent odor of gun smoke, the shouting and shooting of cowboys and Indians along with numerous western style variety acts. Entertainment of this kind continued until 10:30 P.M.   For those who preferred less boisterous entertainment, there had begun at 8:30, about the same time as the vaudeville show, a reception and formal dance at the Park's pavilion.  The dance lasted 'til midnight. If all of this were not enough, there was Hillside Pleasure Park itself, host of all these entertainments, with its very many rides, games and side-shows.  

Here we are in the 21st Century, 100 years later.  Yet, we don't really have to imagine how much fun it might have been for our fellow citizens of 1912 because Belleville, while different in many ways since then, still experiences great civic pride, still knows how to enjoy a town party as each year we turn out in large numbers for our annual "Just A Party" event every September. The excitement and large numbers of participants at our own party gives us a pretty clear picture of what our civic ancestors were enjoying back in the "good old days". 

The old townsfolk were making history a hundred years ago; so are we today.   Let's create history that will cause townsfolk a hundred years from now to look back at us with awe, amazement and admiration.

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